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The Quiet American

Based on Graham Greene's 1955 novel of the same name, The Quiet American (2002) is a rich, vivid cinematic combination of political allegory, romantic triangle, and murder mystery set in Vietnam two years before the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Despite the constant sounds of gunfire and grenades in the distance, British journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is enjoying his life in Saigon, spending days hanging out at the Foreign Correspondent's Club and his nights in the arms of his beautiful young mistress, Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen). Two concurrent events threaten the serenity of Fowler's languid lifestyle: the insistence by his superiors in London that he actually file a story or come home, and the arrival of a brash young American named Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), who simultaneously befriends Fowler and falls for Phuong. As directed by Philip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Dead Calm), the film makes much of the struggle between the two men over who can best care for Phuong — indeed, the relationship is an obvious allegory for the battle for world power in the early 1950s — with the aging, cynical Fowler unable to best the youth and wealth offered by the eager (and duplicitous) younger American. "Saving the country and saving a woman would be the same thing to a man like that," notes Fowler (on the off chance we don't quite get the parallel.) Put another way by Greene in his novel, "Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm," and the anti-Imperialist Fowler becomes gradually distraught as he watches the woman and the country he's come to love being taken over by the eager, idealistic American. Widely disparaged as anti-American on its publication, the novel was originally adapted for the screen in 1958, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy. That film was very good, if overly talky and somewhat ponderous in its presentation — although, as a Hollywood production, it notably twisted the story to present Fowler as a villain and Pyle as a hero. Noyce's film, unlike most remakes, is actually superior to the earlier version and much truer to Greene's book, shot beautifully by the amazing cinematographer Christopher Doyle on location in Saigon with a nuanced and rightfully lauded performance by Caine, who was nominated for an Academy Award. Brendan Fraser again proves, as he did in Gods and Monsters, that he's an underrated talent who can deliver a solid, naturalistic performance in the right film, and watching Caine masterfully play off his doofy earnestness is a delight. Buena Vista's DVD release of The Quiet American offers a very clean, crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1); colors are rich and saturated, though the film as a whole has a deliberately earthy quality to the color choices. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is fine, if unexceptional — sound effects occasionally lack oomph and Craig Anderson's unmemorable score doesn't require showcasing. Extras include a very good, 30-minute "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, exploring every detail of the creative process; an excellent composite commentary track, made up of scene-specific comments by a crowd of principals — including director Noyce, Caine, Fraser, actress Tzi Ma, executive producer Sydney Pollack and writer Christopher Hampton; an unimpressive, stock "making-of" promo; a "Vietnam Timeline" offering a handy nutshell-guide to the region's political turmoil (a jazzier, more interactive version of this is offered as a DVD-ROM feature, as well); and original book reviews of Greene's novel by John Lehman, William Clancy, and Donald Barr. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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